Georgia Tech’s latest in its string of “first time since” achievements has the added benefit of having tangible value for the present season.
With its win Friday night at Wake Forest to finish at 11-6 in ACC play coupled with Louisville’s loss to No. 21 Virginia on Saturday, the Yellow Jackets passed the Cardinals for fourth place. By finishing in the top four, coach Josh Pastner’s team earned a double-bye in the five-day ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
It is Tech’s first time earning a double-bye since the ACC adopted the format when it expanded to 15 teams in the 2013-14 season. The last time Tech was as high as the No. 4 seed was in 2004, when the Jackets finished the season in the national championship game.
“It’s really special what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Pastner said.
Tech was picked to finish ninth in the preseason, and the Jackets end the regular season looking down in the standings at traditional powerhouses Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse and Louisville. Furthermore, the Jackets earned fourth place while playing the third-strongest league schedule, according to KenPom.
Tech, for instance, played five games against the other teams that earned double-byes — regular-season champion Virginia, Florida State and Virginia Tech. Because of COVID-19 pauses and a schedule that already was unbalanced, Virginia played four such games, Florida State three and Virginia Tech two.
Overachieving in the face of those circumstances will earn Pastner consideration as ACC coach of the year. It would be his second time winning the award in his first five seasons as Tech.
Being able to sit out the first two rounds of the tournament also will give the Jackets a significant advantage in their pursuit of their first ACC championship since 1993.
Since the ACC expanded to 15 teams in 2014, teams awarded double-byes are 19-5 in the quarterfinals. Of the 12 finalists, nine were teams that earned double-byes.
“It gives us another day of rest because we need to get some of the guys healthy,” said Pastner, whose team already has arrived in Greensboro for the tournament. “So that’s the big thing.”
For the Jackets, guards Jose Alvarado (leg) and Bubba Parham (knee) and forward Khalid Moore (hip) are ailing. Alvarado has not practiced since the Feb. 23 game against Virginia Tech, Pastner said, and Parham and Moore have practiced a handful of times since then.
Pastner said that the team would not practice Saturday or Sunday and return to practice Monday. Pastner said he expected that with the extra rest, the three should be ready to go by Thursday.
After watching the Cavaliers clinch their third regular-season ACC title in the past four years by beating Louisville, Pastner offered his congratulations to Virginia.
“I’ve got to give Virginia credit,” he said. “It’s not easy to go beat Louisville at Louisville, because Louisville’s really good. What (Virginia coach) Tony Bennett has done is just unreal.”
Ken Sugiura is a sports columnist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Formerly the Georgia Tech beat reporter, Sugiura started at the AJC in 1998 and has covered a variety of beats, mostly within sports.